While millions are experiencing freezing conditions in the northern portions of the country, those who endured another summer of triple-digit heat in the southwest are opening windows, planning picnics, and finally hitting the hiking trails that have eluded them for so long. And it’s not just hiking. If you plan your trip right, you’ll experience some of the best winter hiking in the southwest, with views that make your jaw drop at every turn.
While I’m not precisely sure what constitutes the ‘southwest,’ for this article, I’m including Utah, Arizona, and the deserts of California. My blog, my rules! So enjoy these Arizona, Utah, and California hiking opportunities and get your dose of vitamin D.
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Winter hiking in the United State Southwest
Utah winter hikes and destinations
If you visit for Utah winter hikes, you won’t be disappointed one bit!
While Utah can get chilly (I froze my butt off going to these three spots in late January 2020), it’s the best time to go, in my opinion, as the crowds are nill. This lets you experience nature the way it was meant to be.
Arches National Park
The crowds are gone, and the landscape is ready for adventure. But be warned, it can get below freezing in the winter here, so come bundled.
- Delicate Arch
- Double-O Arch
Read my full write-up of Arches here.
Canyonlands National Park
One of the most underrated National Parks in America, Canyonlands is home to some of the best winter hiking in the southwest. The Needles and Island in the Sky are two separate areas in the park. I’ve only been to the latter, but the former is stunning and has more ample hiking opportunities.
Must-See Places in Island in the Sky:
- Mesa Arch
- Grand Viewpoint and Green River Overlooks
- Upheaval Dome
Minutes away is Deadhorse Point State Park. Take an hour to explore this area. Read more about the National Park here.
Hanksville and Nearby Capitol Reef National Park
This middle-of-nowhere place in the middle of Utah is home to fantastic photography opportunities and crazy natural formations, textures, and colors. There are few places like it in America. These Utah winter hikes will amaze you and draw you back!
- Moonscape Overlook
- Factory Butte
- Cathedral Valley
- Hickman Bridge
Remember to pack warm for winter in Utah. See below for gear suggestions for Utah winter hikes.
Arizona Winter Hiking
When the temperatures drop, Arizona is one of the best places to be from November to April. The Arizona winter hiking is numerous, and you can do it throughout the state.
Kofa Wildlife Refuge
One of the few untouched places left in Arizona. It’s different from most other touristy destinations and provides excellent hiking. The main road is suitable for all cars, but you’ll want high clearance to get to the better areas.
No surprise that Sedona, Arizona, is included on this list. Red Rock Country is idyllic in the winter – especially if you get lucky and experience it covered in snow. Be prepared, though, for heavy traffic on the weekends. However, if you visit during the week, this Arizona winter hiking mecca will be all yours!
This used to be the most hidden of gems but has grown in popularity over the last three years. However, due to its natural barriers of literally the middle of nowhere and the necessity for your vehicle to be high clearance and 4×4, it doesn’t get overrun. Check out my ultimate guide for more information on visiting.
There is so much to do in the Page area in winter. It’s chilly, but the snow doesn’t stick around for long, letting you get out and explore the landscapes. Thanks to slot canyons, this has some of the best winter hiking in the southwest. I have a great guide here that goes more into depth on the below places.
- Buckskin gulch
- Toadstool hoodoos
- Antelope Canyon
- Horseshoe Bend
An hour outside Phoenix, the ‘Supes,’ as locals call it, has hundreds of miles of trails for all skill sets. The Arizona winter hiking here is unparalleled and will fill you with much joy and awe.
- Fremont Saddle
- Wave Cave
Saguaro National Park
Tucson’s weather and scenery in the winter are summed up in one word: Majestic. Saguaro National Park is divided into two sections: the western edge is more desert, and the eastern side is more mountainous. The eastern area has more established trails, but the saguaros are more numerous to the west for photography. As a result, the area is prime real estate for the best winter hiking in the southwest.
Remember to pack for highs in the 60-70s and lows in the 40s. See below for gear suggestions.
California Winter Hiking
There are almost too many places to recommend for California winter hiking. So removing the coastal areas, these three spots will give you enough time to see the sights.
Death Valley National Park
With snow coating the mountains surrounding Death Valley, the temperatures in the valley will be perfect, allowing you to hike and adventure all day. However, be warned that the desert’s nighttime lows can drop below what you’d expect. So while there aren’t a lot of long hikes, it’s still the best hiking in the southwest. Interested in learning how to spend a weekend around DV, click here.
- Badwater Basin
- Artist’s Palette
- Mesquite Sand Dunes
Joshua Tree National Park
Stretch your legs with tons of California winter hiking opportunities in Joshua Tree. Many classic trails are less than 3.5 miles long, so they can be for most skill levels. Be sure to bring plenty of water, as the nice weather doesn’t mean it isn’t extremely dry.
- Ryan Mountain
- Arch Rock Trail
- Hidden Valley
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Lastly, this California winter hiking gem is just 90 minutes outside San Diego. This is one spot I haven’t been to but am looking forward to at some point. However, be prepared for high winds and dust, making it less than ideal.
- The Slot
- Fonts Point
- West Butte/Wind Cave trail
Remember to pack for highs in the 60-70s and lows in the 40s (or lower). See below for gear suggestions.
Hiking Gear Suggestions
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Shoes for Hiking
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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